Russia Reviewed in 2019, pt. II of II

My apologies for the late Part II. It was supposed to go up yesterday, but something serious happened offline which pulled me away from the keyboard. Now I’m back with 2018 in review and some goals for the new year.

Offline year in review: The first half of 2018 was good, the second half not so good. From January to May (or, spring semester), I was enrolled in a Theory and Practice of Translation class, one cluster of rose quartz nested inside the dull, amorphous rock of coursework. I officially declared my self-evident major and received a sticker; the semester ended; then it was immediately off to Russia for study-away. (Seriously. Only two days between the last day of the semester and departure for Petersburg.) Six weeks of amazing followed by two months of doing absolutely nothing of interest.

Fall semester was rough. Classes and grades were fine, but I wasn’t doing too well. I felt – still do, actually – that much of the work I produced had no intrinsic value to me. Done not because it made me happy or content or a better person, but because someone told me to or I needed to do it to become such-and-such. To be honest, I’m bored as heck with the kvu and ready to leave. It’s like reaching a mountain summit only to discover the view is bleaker, less spectacular than you had hoped*.

But no time to ruminate! Your thesis is approaching! And grad school applications! Only time to stress out, smile less, and watch your boredom ferment into apathy!

On the bright side: After realizing “perpetual gray” was not a natural state for me, I began reaching out to friends and spending more time in nature. Some great conversations and a mountain of insect photos came of this. A new archivist position with the library (c. Sep. 2018) is another welcome respite from classes.

Maybe 2019 will be better?

станулия
Been a while since I did a 1-minute MS Paint drawing

Online year in review: If offline life unfolds in linear progression, then online life is cyclical. Am I the only one who feels like not much got accomplished on RR in 2018? Early in the year, I left Goodreads. By December I was coming back around to it again. Spy thrillers, low-hanging fruit, same old same old – at least until the end of the Summer Series, when I branched out. And always, always was I dogged by a feeling of weariness.

Progress in Russian: Okay, this is admittedly hard to assess when you’re on Winter Break and out of shape. Speaking needs work but I’ve made leaps and bounds in listening and reading. I’m now annotating all Russian texts and even some English texts in Russian. I can enjoy movies without English subtitles. And soon (I hope), I’ll be able to handle Russian literary fiction! I have completed the Russian-language track at university, however, so from now on managing grammar is something for outside class.

Speaking of which, on Question 16 of the survey, someone asked what’s the hardest part of learning Russian. I’d have to say overcoming that initial reluctance to speak Russian for fear of making mistakes. (It’s a real challenge when you happen to have a high standard of competence for yourself.)

Or it’s what I term the lexical gap. When you feel ready to engage with Russian as an adult, to express yourself and emote to the full extent you would in English, to jest and tell stories. But you have the active vocabulary of a [very intelligent] child. At least that’s my self-assessment. My writing is fluid. I’m inventing words as jokes or when I need them (ex. “штукатворение” to describe a friend’s less-than-stellar and jumbled attempt at poetry). But I can’t recall words in time to have the kind of deep conversations with Russian-speaking friends and professors I want to have. This is a source of great frustration for me.

But overall, I’m elated with the progress I made in 2018 with Russian, and with a little more practice I could pass the TORFL-II this year.

Most enjoyable books of 2018: Andrei Bely’s Petersburg (read in Malmstad/Maguire’s translation), Bennett Sims’s short story collection White Dialogues (read! read! read!), Douglas Smith’s impressive Rasputin biography, and Octavia Butler’s science fantasy novel Wild Seed.

By my own estimates, I read fewer articles in 2018 than in 2017, but here are some which I enjoyed.

  1. The Love for Three Zuckerbrins (Любовь к трем цукербринам) by Victor Pelevin (The Untranslated)
  2. Some other Russian isms (Irrussianality) – okay, more cribsheet than article in the traditional sense
  3. Why Translation Deserves Scrutiny (New York Review of Books)
  4. Never Fact-Check a Listicle (Three Percent)
  5. Double standards and the rules-based order (Irrussianality)
  6. 12 things I’ve noticed while learning Russian (Street Russian)
  7. Comment on Keith Gessen’s “The Quiet Americans” (Sean’s Russia Blog)
  8. «У меня характер такой: нужно что-то дать взамен». Как 79-летняя блокадница основала благотворительный фонд и теперь развозит на фургоне вещи для пенсионеров и инвалидов (Bumaga)

Best experience: Without a doubt, the opportunity to visit Russia for the first time.

So, some goals for 2019:

Rediscover motivation for Russia-watching.

Well first I need to figure out what’s going on.

With the little time I have left at the kvu, find a discipline to explore through a Russia lens.

Maybe one reason I’m dealing with academic restlessness now is that I haven’t actually found my niche. (Despite trying to convince myself early on that my niche somehow spanned all the other niches.)

Majoring in Russian alone was a strategic decision, made to allow me as much leeway as possible when selecting coursework. The idea was to dip into different areas of the ever-vague “Russian Studies” (politics, history, culture, etc.) to gain a more “rounded” education while honing my language skills. What actually happened: my Russian improved, but I lost a lot of time on classes with little payoff (*cough* polisci) and never became comfortable with any particular discipline’s methodology. I imagine even casual knowledge of some discipline’s methodology would be helpful when applying to grad school.

But I still have three semesters left. And since I’d pretty much satisfied requirements for the Russian major by Fall 2018, maybe I can use my remaining time to add a second major or a minor. In what? Likely history, with a geographical focus on Russia.

Finish novella.

Hard to do when your head is full of ants…but at least the chapters told from an ant’s perspective will get done.

Learn a new craft or pick up a new hobby.

Like maybe bookbinding or acoustic guitar?

Sell some books.

I need the shelf space and the money. So goodbye, 33% of my collection!

Don’t give up.

The perennial goal.


*Yes, I’m the type of person who finds the journey more engaging than the destination sometimes.

4 comments

  1. That looks like a spectacular year of studies and self-development despite all the doubts you’ve been having along the way. Молодец! I am also very flattered to find my Pelevin review on this list. I hope it was useful to you. May your dreams come true this year, and never give up!

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